Joe Biden is not running for president, which is a disappointment to anyone who likes to derive entertainment from politics, which, judging from polling this year, is quite a bit of people.
But when Joe Biden announced the "window is closed" on a presidential campaign for him in 2016, the news also elicited a more genuine disappointment. There are people out there who non-ironically thought Vice President Joe Biden would be a substantive addition to the Democratic field. They are in your social media feeds. Some of the support is just a form of expression of sympathy, since Biden lost his adult son to brain cancer earlier this year, not the first time Biden's lost a child. If the presidential campaign can be used for whatever it is Donald Trump is using it for, Joe Biden can certainly use it to work through his grief. "It's a free country," after all.
But it's not as free as it could be and part of that is on Joe Biden. Insofar as Americans looked to "Uncle Joe" as an authentic political leader, the lack of introspection at the apparent end of a career spanning five decades ought to be problematic for those Democrats who claim to be concerned about issues like civil liberties and criminal justice reform, hot topics a few short months ago.
Bill Clinton, after all, apologized for the 1994 Crime Bill earlier this year as the discussion about criminal justice reform heated up briefly in the nascent Democratic primary campaign. Joe Biden helped write that bill and shepherd it through Congress. He boasted about it putting more cops on the street as recently as this year. Mother Jones suggested his past as a "tough-on-crime hardliner" might be a problem if he decided to run. Yet as recently as last month Biden, still a non-candidate, hit 20 percent in the RealClearPolitics average of Democratic presidential polling.
The other Democratic candidates aren't better on this issue that earlier this year was supposed to be a defining one for Democrats, or their base voters, because of their supposed moral clarity and sense of social justice. Hillary Clinton is a johnny-come-lately, and -weakly, on criminal justice reform.
In its write up of the 1994 Crime Bill, even Vox.com suggested Bill Clinton didn't understand why the bill was wrong, and that the instinct to just "do something" to fix a "problem" contributed a lot to mass incarceration in the first place.
Hillary Clinton's excuses about the crime bill betray the same kind of ignorance—that politicians simply had to "do something" about crime in the 1990s. And now things are different. Too many Democrats hand wave this kind of political expediency as if she were triangulating her position on a wedge issue and not something that ruined millions of lives. Biden's role many ignore, preferring to build a narrative about the "smart people" in the Democratic presidential field. The ones who brought America the crime bill.
The sad coda to this is the contempt shown Jim Webb after he dropped out of the Democratic primary. He was talking about substantive criminal justice reform before any other Democrat running for president now. But he dared point out gun control laws have the tendency to deprive the poor and less privileged from a right to self-defense while keeping the elites who push the laws well protected. He might as well have called them all white supremacists. Maybe some Democratic voters might pay attention to that, and look at how oblivious their party's leadership is about how destructive their policies have been to poor and marginalized people, how surface-level their acknowledgement of that is, and how little they've shown they've learned from it.
But wouldn't it have been neat if Uncle Joe ran?